N is for Nutrition – What I Ate in Africa

16 Apr

(A to Z Blogs April 2015 – Back to Africa)

Congo Dinner

White ugali, fresh mikeke fish with onions and peppers, green peas, and fried plantains.

In two weeks we eat a lot without really noting what all the meals are–unless you’re traveling in Africa. Then, if you’re like me, you take photos of almost every meal. Later I think, Wow. I ate so much, and so much better than I do at home. Nutritious greens, fresh meat, onions, peppers–the list goes on and on. Our hosts took great care of our mission team.

Since you probably don’t want to see every meal, this post is more of an overview. The hot water carafe greeted me every morning, the largest such I’ve ever seen or used outside a hotel. Seriously, the carafe is about 18 inches tall seems to keep the water piping. I want to take one home.From there

Lunch on the go--we select a stick of roasted goat and corn on the cob.

Lunch on the go–we select a stick of roasted goat and corn on the cob.

breakfast includes bread sliced from round loaves, or rectangular, peanut butter to spread, maybe a little sweet white cream spread (the nutella like stuff went quickly with the children in-house for the holiday). Some days we have an egg scramble, once with a local hot sausage (sliced like tiny pepperoni) or other times with East Congo cheese from Goma. Left overs from dinner the night before were often set out a well.

Beignets were a special treat for someone like me who, being from the South (USA), appreciates anything deep-fried. And if it’s sweet, even better! I teased my non-sweet-toothed friend that they just needed some Krispy Kreme icing–when in fact they were so perfect the way they were that I dedicated another entire blog to my Beignet Diet (here.)

Usually, though, the staple starches are fried plantain bananas and ugali. Plantains are not a sweet fruit like I typically think of for a banana. These are dense, similar to potatoes that must be cooked to be eaten. The ugali (which means “dough” in Swahili) is a fine ground cassava flour boiled in water to a thick paste which could be shaped when hot and hold form.

To me ugali has little flavor, which is fine since we eat it with a bite of spiced greens or well seasoned fish, goat or other meat. This dough is dear to me because I remember my youngest sons gobbling it up when we adopted them in Kinshasa. They are the reason I know that in Lingala (another national language, more common to south DRC and the capital) this food is called foo-foo.

Snack bag of the red peanuts, round and about half the size of their cocktail cousins.

Snack bag of the red peanuts, round and about half the size of their cocktail cousins.

The greens are made from so many different plant leaves, I have a hard time keeping up. Chopped onions seems to be cooked in, but there is one special ingredient I begin to recognize from sight. If I see it in the greens, I know these will be ones I like better. “What is the tiny kernel?” I ask. Turns out my favorite flavoring is coarse ground peanuts–the local variety that is a red nut and quite small to begin.

Seeing that we eat most everything with gusto, our hosts diversify and purchase vegetables we’ve never seen before. Life on the lake also means lots of fish, and we even have fresh tilapia one day. “I know that one,” I say. Even more familiar, though, is chicken, but I avoid the area where feathers are plucked.

A few of our Princesses come by the house one evening after a youth dinner and see me eating a bit of ugali with a bite of greens. To Bintu they exclaim, “She eats _____.”

“She seems to like it.”

“It is so strange.”

Creamed mushrooms, thin-sliced steak, and boiled potatoes with herbs

Creamed mushrooms, thin-sliced steak, and boiled potatoes with herbs

Bintu explains to me what they are saying and says back to them, “Yes, of course she eats this. I told you, she is my sister!”

They are all so animated, I blush. How glad I am to be caught eating local though those weren’t my favorite greens. Even a meal of something different can be both an adventure and a blessing.


Roasted meat (?), rice and quartered "egg plant" which was green and the size of a fig.

Roasted meat (?), rice and quartered “egg plant” which was green and the size of a fig.


Kristin King is an author, publisher and co-founder of the nonprofit Future Hope Africa which is based in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She is from Kentucky (USA) and lives as an expat in Holland.


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